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Improve Your Teaching by Understanding Learning Styles

I remember my first class at The Ohio State University. It was my first time in a large lecture hall class and there were well over 100 students in the room.

Day after day, I sat in this class listening to the professor speak on history, yet when I got home I could not recall most of the information that was facilitated. Frustrated, I remember closing my book one night and I just happened to catch a documentary on History Channel about one of the topics we were discussing. After, watching the documentary, I had a clear understanding of the subject. I became aware that my style of learning was more visual and kinesthetic than audible and I was able to comprehend better when I followed practices based off of my learning style.

We all learn in different ways and most people teach in the same modality that they learn according to the Yale University Teaching Center. The problem with my history professor was that he didn’t truly assess the learning styles of our large volume classroom which lead to many students not completing the course. Success as a teacher, trainer or any type of educator comes with knowing your audience and being able to communicate in different methods to accommodate the needs of the group.

The most popular used learning style model is the VAK learning model created by Neil Fleming in 1987. The acronym breaks down into the various learning styles which are: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Adapting aspects off all these techniques will allow for better engagement, comprehension and regurgitation. Let’s examine these styles further.

Visual – This style is attributed to those who retain information by seeing it and storing it mentally. Typically, those who learn this way enjoy reading, writing, are organized and may also be detailed-oriented. They may get distracted with loud noises or audible instructions.

Visual Learning Tips

  • Write out instructions or use graphics or visual aids to reinforce
  • Physically demonstrate your points if applicable
  • Color code information for organization
  • Provide an quiet, neat environment with little distraction

Auditory – Verbal communication is the major form of exchange for those assessed with this learning style. Those who learn from this style adapt well to hearing and speaking. They are more extroverted in nature, social and could be more talkative. Auditory learners may read slower, have difficulty with written instructions and may have tough time in quiet places for long stints of time such as libraries.

Auditory Learning Tips

  • Read out loud; teach backs or presenting to reinforce
  • Reciting details or information learned
  • Use verbal analogies and/or storytelling
  • Beats, rhythms and music are also helpful in educational reinforcements

Kinesthetic- Those assessed with this style learn best by doing; participating and/or handling physical objects. Many who learn this way may enjoy performing arts, exceling in athletics and usually express their feelings physically according to the Different Learning Styles in Education on Education.com. Often those with this learning style may struggle with spelling or reading and are potentially labeled as challenging or even misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Kinesthetic Learning Tips

  • Make models or role play to physically learn
  • Outline material before fully reading through in detail
  • Listen to music while studying
  • Use education concepts through games and projects
  • Give frequent breaks if plausible.

The key as a teacher or trainer is to recognize the existence of these learning styles and to adapt. Being cognitive of the engagement or disengagement of your class will let you know if you style of teaching is reaching your group. If not, you have to adapt and switch up the style to positively reach your class. Changing teaching styles throughout a course or training period is where one will see the most return on their teaching investment. As much as it is the students’ responsibility to learn, it is equally the instructor’s responsibility to teach.